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Gluten-Free Persian Love Cakes from Sweet + Giveaway!

by Kristina Gill

It’s hard to describe the feeling I had when I first opened Baking with Julia when it came out. For me, it was the baking book to end all baking books. I couldn’t put it down. Part of my fascination with it was that it was a notch above my baking skill level, but approachable. And I knew that by baking through it, I could improve my skills, and I did. To this day, I think it is a cookbook all home cooks should own. This week, Sweet, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh launched in the US, and it has become my 21st-century Baking with Julia. It has a range of baked goods from simple to slightly challenging (with helpful notes in the margin to guide you through). To help you dip your toe in, we’ve chosen to share their recipe for these moist little Persian Love Cakes because they are the epitome of easy. All ingredients get mixed in one bowl. They are best eaten the next day, when you can then ice and top them just before serving. It’s the quintessential low-effort, high-impact cake and hopefully the beginning of a new (or renewed) love affair with baking.  —Kristina

We are very lucky to have one copy of Sweet (US edition) to give away to one of our readers worldwide! To win, just answer the following question in the comments below: What was the first dessert you learned to make? Tell us the whole experience!

About Yotam and Helen: Yotam Ottolenghi is the award-winning author of Plenty and Plenty More, co-author of NOPI with Ramael Scully, and co-author with Sami Tamimi of Ottolenghi and Jerusalem, which was awarded Cookbook of the Year by the International Association of Culinary Professionals, and Best International Cookbook by the James Beard Foundation. All five books were New York Times bestsellers, and his books have sold 3.7 million copies worldwide. Yotam writes for The New York Times and The Guardian, appears on BBC, and made the BBC4 documentary, “Jerusalem on a Plate.” He lives in London, where he owns an eponymous group of restaurants and the high-end restaurant, NOPI. Follow him on Instagram @ottolenghi.

Helen Goh is a pastry chef, longtime Ottolenghi collaborator, and has been the lead Ottolenghi product developer for ten years. She was born in Malaysia and began her cooking career in Australia. After seven years as head pastry chef at Donovans, a landmark Melbourne restaurant, she moved to London, went to meet Yotam, and they have been baking and discussing the sweeter things in life ever since. She lives in West London. Follow Helen on Instagram @helen_goh_bakes

{Photography by Peden + Munk}

Sweet (US edition)

Helen and Yotam

Persian Love Cakes

Sweet (UK edition)

Persian Love Cakes

These little Persian cakes came to us by way of our Glaswegian colleague John Meechan, who adapted them from a Gerard Yaxley recipe in Gourmet Traveller. John’s stroke of genius was to add buckwheat flour, distinctive for its nutty and slightly sour taste, and the mahleb, a spice made from grinding the seed kernel of the St. Lucie cherry. The spice is not often used outside of Greece, Turkey and the Middle East, so don’t worry if you can’t get ahold of any: a few drops of almond extract work well as an alternative.

The cakes can be served warm, without the mascarpone, pistachio and pomegranate seed topping, or at room temperature with all the toppings. Presentation-wise, it’s a nice little trick to lay a piece of parchment paper on top of each cake, on the diagonal, hold it down flat, and sprinkle the confectioners’ sugar over the exposed side of the cake.

Makes 12

We make our cakes in small rectangular silicone financier molds, which look so elegant. Alternatively, use a regular muffin pan.


  • For the cakes:
  • 2 1/2 cups/240 g almond meal
  • 2/3 cup/135 g demerara sugar
  • 2/3 packed cup/135 g light brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup/50 g buckwheat flour
  • 5 1/2 tbsp/80 g unsalted butter, fridge-cold, cubed
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp/160 g plain Greek yogurt
  • 3 1/8 oz/90 g eggs (about 2 1/2 large eggs)
  • 1 tbsp mahleb (or ¼ tsp almond extract)
  • ¾ tsp ground nutmeg
  • To serve (at room temperature):
  • 1/4 cup/60 g mascarpone
  • 1½ tsp shelled pistachio kernels, slivered or finely crushed
  • 12 pomegranate seeds (optional)
  • Confectioners’ sugar, for sprinkling



Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C.


Place the almond meal, both sugars, flour, butter and salt in a food processor and pulse a few times, until the mixture has the consistency of breadcrumbs. Transfer two-thirds of the mix to a large bowl along with the yogurt, eggs, mahleb and nutmeg. Mix to combine and set aside.


Line the base of 12 financier (or muffin pan) molds with the remaining third of the crumb mix; it should come about a third of the way up the sides of the molds. Use your fingers or a teaspoon to press the mix into the base of the molds, as you would a cheesecake, so that it is compact.


Using two teaspoons, fill each mold to the top with the yogurt mix and level off with a small offset spatula for an even finish. Place the molds on a baking sheet and bake for 30–35 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through, until the cakes are dark golden brown on top and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. The cakes will look slightly uncooked and damp inside, but this is the way they should be and is part of their charm. Allow the cakes to cool for 15–30 minutes before unmolding them. (They are delicious as is, slightly warm.)


To serve, cool before spooning a little of the mascarpone on top of each cake and topping with the pistachios and 1 pomegranate seed, if desired. Sprinkle a little confectioners’ sugar on one half of each cake, at a diagonal (see introduction).


These cakes are at their best the day after they are made. They can be eaten on the day, however, and kept for up to 2 days in a sealed container (without the mascarpone topping). They don’t keep for much longer than this — which is surprising, given how moist they are — because the texture becomes a bit gummy. Once the cakes have been topped with the mascarpone, they can be stored in the fridge and brought back to room temperature before serving.

Reprinted with permission from Sweet: Desserts from London’s Ottolenghi by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh, copyright © 2017. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

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  • I feel like I’ve been baking all my life, starting with bread my mom taught me to make that we’d cube and turn into Thanksgiving dressing. Pies and zucchini bread we also the first items I remember baking, taught to me by my lovely grandma after harvesting the giant zucchini from her vast garden.

    I don’t bake much anymore since going gluten free, so when I saw this recipe I jumped for joy!! I have a friend in Turkey I may have to contact for the mahleb, I love trying new spices!!!

  • It was my senior year in high school (decades ago) and I made a grasshopper pie for my boyfriend and his Mom for St. Patrick’s Day. It had a chocolate graham cracker crust and used pudding flavored with a touch of creme de menthe to turn it green. It was so disgusting!!! Yet, we ate it.

  • i think the first dessert I attempted was “mysore pak” when I was 10. Its a traditional south indian sweet that is very popular and decadent..

    it was far from perfect but perfectly edible..but my perfect family devoured it like it was the best they’ve ever had!!! that drove me to seek improvemant and cook for my family things they love and thankfully they haven’t had to pretend to like something much since then!

  • It’s not the most elegant dessert but when I was little and would visit my grandma in Iowa, we would always make creme de menthe ice cream & frozen fruit cups. We would put the desserts in dixie cups and her mudroom freezer was lined with all of these little treats to grab.

  • When I was a kid, my favourite dessert was almond jello, a Chinese, almond-infuse milk custard, made by my paternal grandmother. At some point, my mother coaxed the recipe out of my grandmother – I still remember her standing with the phone cradled to her ear, scribbling furiously on the back of the envelope. My mom and I made it together shortly thereafter (like all jello it’s a kid-friendly endeavour!) and it turned out perfectly (maybe?). I still have that recipe, on that envelope. :)

  • I am not even completely sure what I made first, right now all I can think of was that I was in a cake making mood around my middle school year, red velvet was my favorite! I remember making buttercream and some how ended up leaving a kind of burn mark on the mixing bowl…oops… haha, I can’t even remember what all I did to make that happen though, I haven’t made that kind of butter cream since though. And then I got courageous and tried my hand with some fondant, but that was so time intensive and even though it turned out alright, the cake tasted weird because the oil that I had used in the cake had gone bad.. Not all my cakes were failures though, like I said, the red velvet was my favorite!

  • My first dessert was far from fancy. It was ice cream in a bag. I don’t remember how old I was but if I had to guess I’d say 5 or 6. We would place all the ingredients into a ziploc bag then place it inside a large tin coffee can. My dad would add some ice to the can. Then my sister, brother, and I would sit on the kitchen floor and roll it back and forth between us for what felt like hours. It always seemed so magical that what was once a bunch of random ingredient had turned into a wonderful blend of delicious ice cream. It is one of my favorite memories as a child and today I do the same thing with my own children.

  • I first learned how to make banana bread, with my single mom. I guess growing up we had an endless supply of ripe bananas because I feel like we made this bread so often! I really enjoyed mashing the bananas with a fork, and then adding the lemon juice to them while we finished mixing the dry ingredients, then wet ingredients. I make a healthier and gluten-free version now, but back then, it was made with a whole cup of oil–yikes! Greasy but oh so good.

  • I love pie. We had wedding pie instead of cake, I get a birthday pie, and any meal I want to make really special, I serve pie.

    When I was about 10, I wanted to help with Christmas dinner, so my dad had me make a pie. Pear-cranberry pie. At the time, I wasn’t ready to learn to make a crust from scratch so I used a frozen tenderflake crust (which now makes me cringe), but it has become a Christmas tradition for me to make a (wholly from scratch!) pear cranberry pie with a crumble topping. It is delicious and wholly expected now.

  • Chocolate chip cookies! From the recipe on the bag of chips, no particular brand preference. But we’d get picked up and plopped on the counter next to the mixing bowls and learn how to count out the 1/4 cups of flour and sugar, pour in the chocolate chips, break the eggs, and do our best to stir until the dough got thick enough to best our little arms. I’m not sure we were even walking yet when we started “helping” make cookies!

  • I learned how to make a hot fudge pudding cake in 5th or 6th grade. You made a batter and then poured hot water and cocoa over the top so when it was finished you had cake on top and hot chocolate pudding on the bottom. still a favorite today

  • The first dessert I learned to make was blackberry pie. I was around 9 years old and there were wild blackberries growing the fence line. My neighbor and I picked the berries and my mother watched as we made the filling and dough. The only part she did was roll the dough and form the shells. To this day I dread the dough process, probably because my mom always did it for me. :)

  • That is a good question. I remember making cookies with my sister as a small girl. Though I really ate more of the dough than helped. I also remember wanting to taste the batter before the flour was added and especially before the chocolate chips were added.

  • I love reading everyone’s baking stories! The ice cream Jamie made is inspiring me to teach our granddaughter this magic trick, too.
    I’m not sure what my very first baking experience might have been, maybe cookies, but for a few summers when I was preteen and beyond I would help with cooking at my Aunt & Uncle’s farm during wheat harvest. My aunt could make anything and I can particularly remember her talking me through all the steps to make a lattice top cherry pie. It turned out beautiful, but I’ve never made one since. I guess it was one of those perfect moments you know you’ll never be able to replicate.

  • My first dessert cooking experience was in Home Economics when I was 11 or maybe 12. In general I didn’t like Home Ec because it was compulsory for girls, but boys did woodwork – and woodwork seemed infinitely more exciting. With hindsight I know now how wrong I was.

    Most of the time in Home Ec we made ugly, misshapen aprons using doubtful sewing skill-sets, or baked equally misshapen scones and biscuits with dubious flavour combinations and techniques.

    Then, one day, Miss Bowler the teacher (who in large measure seemed to share my distaste for the subject) decided we would make the dessert of most technical difficulty for the quintessential early 1970’s New Zealand dinner party – Baked Alaska. None of us had heard of it, and reading the recipe left us with more questions than answers. We would bake the Alaska for Mother’s Visit, the day our mothers came to appreciate our new skills.

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    I’ve never made it since, but it was the turning point for my interest in cooking and food.

  • I learned to make Oatmeal Cookies first. We had a snow storm and I was looking for something to do. I had a box of free oatmeal from a grocery store rewards card. The recipe was inside and I had everything I needed to make the coookies at home.

  • The first dessert I ever learned to make on my own was chocolate pudding. It was, of course, not from scratch, but rather from one of those jello-brand box mixes. I would measure out the milk and whisk in the mix, then pour it into our fancy sundae glasses. The most excruciating part was waiting the requisite time for it to chill in the refrigerator before eating. I have come a long way since then, but I suppose looking back, it was a good introduction into measuring, whisking, presentation, and patience- all good skills to have as a more advanced dessert-making.

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  • I was a 17 year old and had moved out to live with a boyfriend. I had made cookies before but wanted to impress him, so I made a cheesecake and it was awful. I didn’t attempt deserts again until around 18ish. I had lots of success at making most attempts so , to this day, desert is my forte’ . Love all deserts and love making them. When I cook, I like to have music and be alone in my kitchen. That to me is relaxing.

  • I learned to bake because my mother wouldn’t make anything sweet. My grandmother was the baker in the family and had given our family the sunset cookie book. I picked my favorite type of cookie to eat: an oatmeal raisin cookie. It had lemon zest! Before lemon zest was cool. And a picture of an excited kid reaching into a cookie jar on the front.

  • I learned to bake when I was in high school. There were a lot of bake sales in those days – people weren’t afraid of gluten or of kids having a treat now and again. So, rather than my mother baking, I would volunteer. The first time I volunteered, the woman who was running the bake sale told me that frosting the brownies was better. This also allowed me to decorate them. I learned early on the joy of baking for others and still bake for others (in both a professional and personal capacity) now. Thanks for asking….

  • That is a good question. I remember making cookies with my sister as a small girl. Though I really ate more of the dough than helped. I also remember wanting to taste the batter before the flour was added and especially before the chocolate chips were added.